Repeatedly, in this scholarly survey of cultural history, Roszak (History/California State Univ.; Flicker, 1991, etc.) evokes a back-to-nature philosophy, contrasting the rational philosophy of the Enlightenment with the romanticism of the noble savage; prehistoric animism and earth-mother religion with the rise of patriarchy and male-dominated, nature-dominating religion. All this by way of elaborating what he sees as the only salvation of the ecological crisis: a new ``ecopsychology.'' The new school celebrates the individual, seen in harmonious interrelationships with the family, society, Mother Earth, and, ultimately, the cosmos. Ecopsychology is informed by various post- Freudian schools: some Jung (collective unconscious), and something of Reich, Maslow, Gestalt psychology, and various California-style movements—in general, those schools that look upon the unconscious as the well-spring of creativity. ``The core of the mind is the ecological unconscious,'' Roszak says, containing ``the living record of cosmic evolution, tracing back to distant initial conditions in the history of time.'' Yes, time's arrow and the evolution of the cosmos figure large in Roszak's philosophy. Taking the Big Bang as a given, and borrowing arguments from systems theory, the Gaia hypothesis, and the anthropic principle, he sees the emergence of humanity as inevitable in the grand scheme of things. It follows, then, that we must get back on track with Mother Earth. How to do this finds Roszak lamenting urban- industrial society. Cities are bad. Deep ecology is good. The restorative work must begin in childhood, and must involve a breaking away from macho ideas and the invoking of some concepts of ecofeminism. Roszak turns a fine sentence and knows his history (if not his science), but his idealism pays no mind to the population problem, poverty, disease, or rising racial-ethnic conflicts; and it dismisses the cultural largesse of cities and pays scant homage to what science and technology might do. In short, there seems to be more wish than reality here.

Pub Date: June 30, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-72968-3

Page Count: 420

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1992

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.



An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.


Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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